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Prairie Creek: A Gold Mine of Archaeology

Prairie Creek flows in a south-westerly direction across Daviess County from the Thousand Acre Woods to the West Fork of the White River. In the spring of 1972 a local resident observed mastodon bones exposed in the south creek bed about three miles north of Washington. The find was reported to the Indiana University Glenn Black Laboratory of Archeology in Bloomington.

Prairie Creek about three miles north of Washington

Curtis H. Tomak, an archaeologist, was sent in 1972 to investigate. He determined the bones in the creek bed were of a mastodon. He also discovered the south bank of the creek was stratified—different layers of sand, silt, and clay deposited over thousands of years—and some of the layers contained well preserved plant and animal remains.

The next year Tomak and six IU student volunteers returned to Prairie Creek and made a test excavation. They dug a five cubic foot pit into south bank and segregated 15 strata. Indian artifacts were found in two of the layers and bones of extinct animals (long-nosed peccary and giant beaver) were uncovered in Stratum 7. Tomak wrote a paper, "Prairie Creek: A Stratified Site in Southwestern Indiana" about the excavation that was published in the Indiana Academy of Science (1974).

Prairie Creek archaeological dig in 1974 or 1975

More extensive studies at Prairie Creek were conducted in 1974 and 1975 by Dr. Patrick J. Munson, an IU anthropology professor, and IU undergraduate students. In a 1974 article published in the Indianapolis Star, Dr. Munson said he and the students worked daily for six weeks and uncovered 100,000 animal bones, 500 pounds of wood, and artifacts made by humans. No human bones were found, but Dr. Munson concluded small bands of Paleo Indians hunted and fished in and around Prairie Creek 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Dr. Munson called the materials found at the Prairie Creek dig “a gold mine of scientific data.” “There is nothing comparable to this site in the eastern United States” he said. Prairie Creek is recognized as a leading archaeological site. In 1975 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1974 newspaper article about the Prairie Creek study

This article was compiled by Bruce Smith, a member of the Daviess County Historian Team.

1,260 views2 comments


Dec 13, 2023

Very very interesting a gold mine of scientific data


Dec 11, 2023

Very interesting. Makes the reader want to learn more.

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